Editorial: Next, Let’s Change How Washington Budgets
If the debt ceiling debacle left you queasy about how things get done – and don’t get done – in Washington, then it turns out you have a pretty good sense of equilibrium about our nation’s politics. A lot more work needs to be done to clean up the way the government spends the taxpayer’s money. This was just an important start.
The debt ceiling deal was a win for conservatives in one very important way: Congress said no to raising taxes and yes to cutting spending and, in principle, conservatives prevailed. But the devil in Washington is always in the details. And precisely how a super commission of Congress is supposed to work is entirely unclear. Whether future spending reductions are truly met over a 10-year period remains to be seen. And that’s putting it very politely.
While a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution is important and has seized the imagination of GOP lawmakers, a more immediate and concrete fix to the broken way Washington spends money would involve changing the budgeting process. You see, Washington considers itself very special and doesn’t budget like individuals, households or even companies.
Instead of starting from scratch every year, using zero-based budgeting, Washington assumes that it will spend what it spent last year – and spend a little more next year, using a practice called baseline budgeting. Sadly, the practice of baseline budgeting actually began under a Republican, Richard Nixon, in 1974, and the government spending of the 1960s continued to swell into the 1970s. Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, actually tried to return to zero-based budgeting, which he’d tried – with limited effectiveness – in Georgia, as author Steven Hayward wrote in his book, The Age of Reagan. And shortly after the 1976 elections, none other than Ronald Reagan wrote a newspaper column entitled “Let’s Give Carter a Chance.”
Of course, Reagan didn’t give Carter that much of a chance, entering and winning the 1980 race and sending the Georgian packing back down south. Reagan, in turn, tried to return Washington to zero-based budgeting, as Politifact recently noted, but he ultimately was forced to abandon it. Regardless, zero-based budgeting should be a top priority for Congress. Only starting from scratch – every single year – will force cabinet officers and Congressmen alike to scrutinize every single dollar, instead of assuming that we’ll just spend more every single year.
But take solace and be of good cheer. This can be the beginning of getting our fiscal house in order. It will take diligence and hard work and attention to details. But it reminds us of Reagan’s favorite joke, cited by Peter Robinson, who was a 25-year-old speechwriter for the 40th president:
“Worried that their son was too optimistic, the parents of a little boy took him to a psychiatrist. Trying to dampen the boy’s spirits, the psychiatrist showed him into a room piled high with nothing but horse manure. Yet instead of displaying distaste, the little boy clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to all fours, and began digging. “What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere.”
Roundup: How Good is the Debt Ceiling Deal?
The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday morning to approve legislation that will raise the national debt ceiling in exchange for $2.1 trillion in spending cuts, with more to come in the next decade. With the bill on the way to President Barack Obama’s desk to be signed into law, conservative bloggers are skeptical about the effectiveness of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and what it means for the future.
“If the plan is implemented to the letter as intended,” writes Erick Erickson at RedState, “we will add $12 trillion in debt over the next decade.” Either because of wealth flight or sheltering of income, Erickson predicts that tax revenue ultimately won’t rise above 20 percent of GDP, meaning Democrats must be prepared to cut spending much more than they already have. He continues, “Government spending is exceeding its ability to take in revenue to fund the leviathan and at some point the leviathan will come crashing down on us, if we are not first consumed by it.”
Baker Spring at the Heritage Foundation points out that the division of agreed-upon spending cuts between domestic and defense is unfairly heavy on the defense end — which could result in Congress “either undermining the nation’s security or abandoning its own proposal.” Spring writes, “Congress has just imposed upon the defense of the nation a disproportionate burden of debt reduction. These provisions put more pressure on the defense budget than the other portions of the federal budget. … Weakness that invites war is much more expensive than deterring our enemies by maintaining an adequate defense budget all along.”
Most ominously, Daniel J. Mitchell predicts that what’s good for Congressional politicians won’t do any favors for the American people. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writes for CNN: “Middle-class Americans play by the rules, pay ever-higher taxes and struggle to make ends meet while the establishment of both parties engages in posturing as America slowly drifts toward a Greek-style fiscal meltdown.” The GOP succeeded in cutting spending as part of the deal, and yet Democrats “took the debt issue off the table until after the 2012 elections, protected their favorite programs and created a supercommittee that will seduce the GOP into a tax increase.” Therefore, incumbents on both sides of the aisle are likely safe for re-election. But middle-class citizens who won’t benefit from income-redistribution programs or government handouts, Mitchell says, get the short end of the stick.
Today in Opinion:
- Under President Obama, it appears that young voters are more inclined to identify as Republican — and that number is continually growing. Michael Barone examines the shift.
Under Obama, Millennials Move into the Republican Fold
Most presidents affect the standing of their political parties. Ronald Reagan advanced his party’s standing among young voters. So did Bill Clinton.
In his first term, George W. Bush helped Republicans equal Democrats in party identification in the 2004 exit poll — the first time that happened since polling began.
But in his second term, Bush proved toxic to the Republican label. The Pew Research Center showed Democrats with a 51 percent to 39 percent party identification edge over Republicans in its 2008 polls.
Now Pew Research has come out with figures for 2011. They’re not good news for Barack Obama and the Democrats.
The Democratic Party identification edge has been reduced to 47 percent to 43 percent. That’s a 4-point drop for Democrats and a 4-point rise for Republicans since 2008.
The Pew analysts note, as if they were analyzing a growth stock, that the Republicans’ numbers haven’t improved since 2010. But the 2010 numbers yielded a 52 percent to 45 percent Republican lead in the popular vote for the House.
If — and it’s always a big if — Republicans can maintain that standing in party identification, they should be in fine shape in November 2012, even with increased presidential year turnout.
It’s interesting to see which groups have moved most in party identification.
As the Pew analysts note, there has been little change among blacks, who are overwhelmingly Democratic. Hispanics come in at 64 percent to 22 percent Democratic, somewhat better for the president’s party than last year, when they voted 60 percent to 38 percent Democratic in House elections.
But there has been big movement among whites. In 2008, they were 51 percent to 40 percent Republican. In the first half of 2011, they were 56 percent to 35 percent Republican — more Republican than Southern whites were three years ago.
The most noteworthy movement among whites has been among voters under 30, the so-called Millennial generation. Millennials voted 66 percent to 32 percent for Barack Obama in 2008 and identified as Democrats rather than Republicans by a 60 percent to 32 percent margin.
But white Millennials have been moving away from the Democrats. The Democratic edge in party identification among white Millennials dropped from 7 points in 2008 to 3 points in 2009 to a 1 point Republican edge in 2010 and an 11 point Republican lead in 2011.
There have been shifts of similar magnitude among whites who are low-income, who have no more than a high school education and who live in the Midwest.
It’s not hard to come up with plausible reasons for these changes. Obama campaigned as the champion of “hope and change” in 2008 and assured crowds of young people, “We are the change we are seeking.”
But the change they have seen is anything but hopeful. Youth unemployment rates have been at historic highs. Young people have seen their college degrees produce little in the way of job offers.
They are choosing more often to keep living with their parents. From the Obama Democrats they have gotten only a promise that “children” up to age 26 can stay on Mommy and Daddy’s health insurance plans.
In the wake of the 2008 election, I argued that there was a tension between the way Millennials lived their lives — creating their own iPod playlists, designing their own Facebook pages — and the one-size-fits-all, industrial-era welfare state policies of the Obama Democrats.
Instead of allowing Millennials space in which they can choose their own futures, the Obama Democrats’ policies have produced a low-growth economy in which their alternatives are limited and they are forced to make do with what they can scrounge.
There is little evidence that the Millennials believe their plight can be relieved and opportunities opened up by slapping higher taxes on Bill Gates and Steve Jobs or by restricting deductions for corporate jets, as Barack Obama urged in his speech calling for tax increases (although Senate Democrats gave up on them) in debt-ceiling legislation.
The intended purpose of legislation like the stimulus package and Obamacare was to improve the situations of those least able to take care of themselves — the young, the less educated, the low-skilled. But it is just such groups that, the Pew Research Center numbers show, have been moving away from the president’s party. An instructive achievement, no?
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